Combat Veterans and Fireworks

33-1196545384The neighborhood where I live has its own Facebook page where people post announcements and searches for lost cats. Last year, about this time, a post appeared from a neighbor who said he was an Iraq War veteran. Fireworks triggered his PTSD, he said, so could we please refrain from shooting them off?

By the time I saw this request, many had already commented, saying thank you for your service and, no, of course they wouldn’t shoot off fireworks if it bothered him so much. I wasn’t planning on shooting off fireworks anyway, so I had no problem complying with his request, but I did want to write into the comment section and ask if he had competent mental health care. I was concerned he didn’t. Continue reading

Living with Stress

workshop_6933-1_edited-1You’re not supposed to choose to have stress, but many people do, for good reasons and bad. For many, very many, stress is an acceptable price they pay for values they hold dear.

I’ve known people who are so dead set against having stress that they don’t try anything new because it’ll make them nervous, they don’t go anywhere because people might look at them funny; they continue smoking cigarettes because they’ll feel like crap if they quit; or they don’t get attached to anything because, when they lose it, they’ll grieve. For a while, sometimes a long while, they are gloriously stress free. It looks as though they’re doing well. They don’t give their families any trouble. They are not spending their days in misery.

The problem is that their lives are getting smaller, and smaller, and smaller. The day will come when they see the price they paid to be stress free and, guess what? They’ll fall into despair. They will have dug themselves a fox hole so deep, they can’t get out of it.

Contrast that to the person who works so hard at his job that he drives himself into the ground, not eating, not sleeping, not even caring how he feels as long as he meets his objectives. He doesn’t want to destroy his health, but he accepts it because he’s doing something important. Compare it to the wife who sticks with an alcoholic, abusive husband, determined to bring him around to fulfill the promise she sees in him. She may prefer not to be hurt, but she will accept being hurt if it means that she is good. Or look at the performer who endures stage fright before each show. It’s no fun puking up your guts in the dressing room, but the applause makes it worth it. There are people, plenty of people, who do hard things. When you do hard things, you get stress, because there’s only so much a person can take. It’s the cost of doing what is difficult, if not impossible.

Those people might come to see a therapist, too; hoping to alleviate their stress. But their stress isn’t going anywhere because they won’t do what they have to do to get rid of it: quit trying to do what is difficult. The won’t quit doing what’s difficult because only the difficult really matters. This is how they make their lives mean something.

When they put it that way, I don’t blame them.

The moral of the story is that you can put up with anything, even stress, as long as it’s meaningful. Additionally, if you are putting up with stress, it had better be.

Dealing with Post-Election Stress

Bringing you the best of mental health

On the eve of Independence Day, the Shrink turns to post-election stress.

There are three things you can do with your post election stress. The first two are:

  1. Speak out
  2. Shut upBoth of these methods work to some extent, but can also cause stress. Speaking out can cause stress when there is no positive effect, so people often try the second method; but that causes stress when they feel cut out of the conversation. Luckily, there’s a third method. Rather than choosing or alternating between the two, you combine the two. I call this method:

    3. Statescraft.

    Here I am in a video in the Speaking for Justice Series of Higher Group Productions. I briefly talk about post-election stress and statescraft.

Click here to watch.

 

Check your Dashboard

ur_035_28ubt29

I’d like to interrupt whatever else you might be doing, to remind you to check your dashboard; you’ll find there almost all the information you need to keep things running smoothly.

No, I don’t mean the dashboard in your car, although you should be checking that regularly, as well; I mean your body’s dashboard. You can see it when you look within. A lot of problems you might have with yourself can easily be explained by a quick look at your dashboard. Feeling anxious? Feeling depressed? Look at the dashboard; it might tell you why and what you can do about it. Are you cranky and irritable; do you just want to kick someone’s ass? Look at your own dashboard before you blame other people and their behavior. Is your work suffering from some kind of a block; is everything just harder for you now than it was an hour ago? Check the dashboard. Do you believe you need a drink or want scarf down great quantities of food? Yup, you guessed it; check the dashboard before you open the fridge.

Let’s go over all the gauges on the dashboard and you’ll see what I mean. Continue reading

What is Madness?

Someone asked why the name of this blog is Madness 101. Shouldn’t I call it Mental Illness 101? Isn’t mental illness the proper, politically correct term?

It is, but it’s not really mental illness that I’m writing about. I’m writing about the related subject of madness.

Illness is something that happens to you beyond your control. Some diseases are inherited, like Huntington’s; others are transmitted, like Ebola. Mental illness is thought to involve a multi-factor genesis called the Diathesis-Stress Hypothesis. (I love saying that. Try it yourself. Once you learn how to say it, you’ll love it, too. Diathesis-Stress Hypothesis.)

The Diathesis-Stress Hypothesis states that people are born with a genetic predisposition which is then activated by stress. You may have schizophrenia written into your genetic code, for instance, but it is not until you encounter the peculiar stress of adolescence or early adulthood that the symptoms of schizophrenia emerge. You may tend towards depression, on one hand, or anxiety, on the other. Most of the time you are fine, but when that decisive straw lands on your camel’s back, the camel falls one way or the other.

Other conditions are normal reactions to abnormal experiences. Almost anyone who smokes enough tobacco will become addicted to it. Addiction is the result of ordinary physiological processes whereby the body changes as a result of the substance ingested. All addictions are just as inevitable if you use the substance enough, although studies suggest that the path towards addiction may be speeded up or slowed, depending on genetics.

Post Traumatic Stress is another normal reaction to abnormal experience. It is true that not everyone who experiences a particular horrible event develops post traumatic stress over that event. However, we do believe that the accumulation of stressful events, or experiencing a single event in early childhood, when you are particularly vulnerable, will lead to the development of the condition.

The Diathesis-Stress Hypothesis is a powerful theory, but it leaves out one important factor: personal choice and responsibility. I’m not saying people choose to be schizophrenic; but the person with schizophrenia does choose whether or not to isolate himself, take his medication, and work with the people available to help him. The depressed person has a choice about whether to stay in bed all day or open the blinds to let the sun in. The anxious person can decide whether to avoid or face that which makes her anxious. The alcoholic chooses whether or not to drink.

When an alcoholic doesn’t drink, he is still an alcoholic, but he is not adding, through his own actions, to the condition. Similarly, the depressed, anxious, or psychotic person can do a lot towards addressing their conditions. They do not have to simply be passive victims.

I am aware that people with mental illness are subject to extreme social prejudice. I know that they often get blamed and blame themselves for things that are out of control. I work with them intimately on a daily basis. However, I am a counselor and it is my business to help people identify the ways that they contribute to the problems they face and the things they can do about them. It does them no good to tell them that they are the unlucky recipients of flawed genes or a chemical imbalance or have too much stress in their lives if they do not also address how they unnecessarily add to that stress.

Madness is my word for the things ill people do to make themselves more ill.

Having alcoholism is not madness, but drinking when you know you have alcoholism is madness.

Being depressed is not madness, but not getting up to start the day is madness.

Having anxieties is not madness. It’s very normal, and even may be desirable, to have anxieties; but, letting your fears control you is madness.

You are not responsible for having an illness, but when illness takes over your life and controls you and the people around you, that is madness.

In this series, I will describe the ways of madness and the things you can do about it.